Literary Criticism of Gary Paulsen’s “The Hatchet”

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The theme of survival for literary pieces has been very popular ever since Charles Darwin noted that “survival” is the central idea that promoted evolution.

In any literary piece that promotes the theme of survival, a certain story structure is used. It involves a setting that primarily ponders on a certain kind of a disaster. The story also employs a main character that is trapped in the disaster. As a result, the plot often entails the narrative of how the main character struggles over and survives the various challenges brought about by the disaster.

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Gary Paulsen’ Hatchet The novel “Hatchet” uses survival as its central theme. As such, it employs the natural story structure of literary pieces that ponders on “survival”. The story offers Brian Robertson as a 13 year old boy who gets bombarded with many challenges- both usual and peculiar. These challenges form the story’s setting that leans on disasters and struggles.

The main disaster in the story is the divorce of Brian’s parents. In addition to that, his problem escalates as he discovers that his mother is having an affair, which his father is unaware of.As a result, Brian is forced to deal with question of whether or not he should reveal the affair to his unknowing father. In his attempt to escape the disaster that he faces, Brian decides to inform his father about the secret and boards a Cessna plane to Canada.

Just like any survival story, the disaster escalates as the pilot suffers from a heart attack and dies. Thus, the plane crashes somewhere in the Canadian Wilderness and Brian has to survive the wild life. The “Hatchet’s appeal to at risk readersAccording to Unwin and Palmer, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet largely appeals to young adolescents who live “in the edge and in the shadow of violence”. By the phrase “at risk,” we refer to students or potential literary readers who are highly exposed to day-to-day displays of violence and tragedy.

As such, they are forced to face their daily lives with threat and danger. Moreover, they often equate their surroundings to a social jungle where potential danger lurks at every corner. When faced with these youth who are “at-risk”, educators are faced with the quest of finding a literary piece that can attract their interest.They are supposed to find a literary piece that promotes a story and a setting which the adolescent will be interested in.

They should find something that allows the “at risk” adolescent to relate to the main character in the story. According to Unwin and Palmer, the “Hatcher” is one of these notable reads for the “at risk” readers. Basically, the novel appeals to most at-risk readers primarily because it promotes the theme of survival. Apparently, at-risk readers can relate to the character of Brian who is literary trapped in the wilderness.

Any “at risk” reader can equate himself to a main character that actually has to survive and surpass all the challenges that comes his way. As a survival-themed literature piece, the Hatchet gives the educator many opportunities to attract the student’s attention and direct it towards the skills of surviving. Though the landscape differs, both the at-risk reader and the Brian have to deal with the “wilderness”. In the Hatchet, Brian was able to survive fifty four days in the wild by employing various strategies.

In his challenging landscape, Brian tried to adapt to his landscape. He taught himself how to make fire and he ate whatever type of food that he found in the forest (berries, turtle eggs, and fish). To survive his disaster, Brian had to learn the “ways of the jungle” and he learned how to interact with beasts from the wild (such as a bear, a skunk, and a porcupine). These survival skills in the forest can be translated into skills that can be used in dealing with the landscape of the “at risk” readers- the urban environment.

For example, learning the “ways of the jungle” can be equated to learning technical skills and strategies that are highly needed in life. In the same way that Brian had to deal with the forest beasts, street kids are also supposed to deal with street bullies and punks that promote drugs, violence, and killings. Also, the Hatchet offers many moral values that can really be valuable and beneficial for the “at risk” readers. These include the need for adaptation, the openness to change, the value for hope, and the ability to surpass every challenge.

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Literary Criticism of Gary Paulsen’s “The Hatchet”. (2017, May 10). Retrieved from

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